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Wednesday, 22 April 2020 07:08

Reforming VicPol in a Post Pell Environment - Part Two

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Accepting that the Victorian institutions involved in getting Pell need reforming, this two part essay explores the uncanny parallels between the Pell case here and similar cases in the UK, and draws lessons from these in charting a course towards reform.

The Henriques Report on Operation Midland in the UK

The second UK case study which has an almost creepy resonance with the Pell case is the Carl Beech affair and the UK Met’s infamous Operation Midland (2014 to 2016).  To recap, a complainant known initially as “Nick” and subsequently revealed to be one Carl Beech alleged all sorts of horrendous crimes supposedly committed by a very high profile British political and other figures.  This was the paedophile ring’s paedophile ring.  He named names.  Big names.  And the Met simply “believed him”, trapped as it was in the moral panic associated with the sex abuse of children that followed the Jimmy Savile revelations and the various legal changes that had occurred in Britain, many driven by the Tony Blair Government.  Beech is now serving an 18 year prison sentence after his fabrications were revealed as such. 

A good summary of the relevance of the Beech case to Cardinal Pell can be found here, at Damian Thompson’s UK Spectator podcast, Holy Smoke.

Just as police trawling found its grim way from Britain to Victoria, so too did MeTooism and the treatment of all complainants as “victims”, flipping the presumption of innocence in the process.

The Henriques Report (named after its author, the former high profile prosecutor and High Court Judge Sir Richard Henriques) was released in October 2016.  Or, to be accurate, about 20% of the report was released.  The balance had to wait three more years, till the end of Carl Beech’s trial.  A further, more recent report was commissioned by the UK Government to investigate the Met‘s progress, if any, in implementing the Henriques Report’s recommendations.

Henriques went in hard on such pertinent questions as “we believe you” thinking among police, the insistence on referring to complainants as “victims”, no mere verbal slip but a reflection on embedded beliefs within law enforcement, the drawbacks of trawling and the contested question of how widespread false accusations of sex abuse are.  His conclusions did not reflect well on Operation Midlands and the Met, nor would he have been impressed with VicPol’s aping of the Met’s core methods and thereby destroying its own integrity in the pursuit of Pell.

According to the UK press, in a comment eerily similar to VicPol and Witness J:

Carl Beech, was described as having remained consistent “and he is felt to be a credible witness who is telling the truth”.  But he had not remained consistent and officers failed to disclose seven factors that undermined his credibility.

Some of Henriques’ key findings, relevant to the Pell case, include the following:

  • The term “victim” should be replaced by “complainant” pre-conviction;
  • In the case of historic claims, complainants should be asked by the investigating officer to explain the reason for the delay in making the complaint;
  • Complainants should be asked whether they have had any contact with the press (like sensationalist anti-Catholic activists like Milligan);
  • Henriques expressed a clear and concluded view. All “complainants” are not “victims”. Some complaints are false and thus those “complainants” are not “victims”;
  • A criminal justice system that deliberately describes those it serves inaccurately is a flawed system;
  • Every accused person that Henriques interviewed expressed the view that by describing the accuser as a victim, the guilt of the accused had been assumed and thus pre-judged;
  • Henriques questioned the approach of “always believing” a complainant, stating that “it may prejudice the impartiality of the officer's role and lead to their failing to recognise or give weight to other evidence inconsistent with the complainant’s account”;
  • It is the duty of a police officer to investigate. Many decisions in the criminal justice process have to be written down. The police officer taking a statement from a complainant has a unique opportunity to assess the complainant’s veracity. The effect of requiring a police officer, in such a position, to believe a complainant reverses the burden of proof. It also restricts the officer's ability to test the complainant’s evidence;
  • It is, of course, fundamental in any respectable criminal justice system that no erosion of the presumption of innocence is tolerated;
  • In many allegations of non-recent sexual abuse, the only pieces of evidence are the complaint and the suspect's response. Is the investigating officer required to believe the complainant and then suddenly become objective and impartial as he interviews the suspect? Surely objectivity and impartiality should prevail throughout the whole process;
  • Quoting British barrister Rupert Butler, Henriques argued – “The assumption is one of guilt until the police have evidence to the contrary. This involves an artificial and imposed suspension of forensic analysis which creates three incremental and unacceptable consequences. Firstly, there is no investigation that challenges the complainant; secondly, therefore, the suspect is disbelieved; and, thirdly, and consequently, the burden of proof is shifted onto the suspect”;
  • Since a complainant may or may not be telling the truth, the present policy causes those not telling the truth to be artificially believed and, thus, liars and fantasists, and those genuinely mistaken, are given a free run being neither questioned or challenged;
  • The policy of “believing victims” strikes at the very core of the criminal justice process. It has and will generate miscarriages of justice on a considerable scale;
  • First response officers believed there to be a high level of false allegations seemingly made by individuals for their own ends (Henriques report, Chapter One).

These key findings demonstrate how utterly damning of some of the critical assumptions and practices of the Met the Henriques report was.  By extension, on the same grounds, the very same criticisms could be made of VicPol.

The motivations of complainants are central to the Pell case.  Various British inquiries and studies have examined the question in detail.  Their conclusions suggest the following:

  • There are “bandwagoners” who jump in on initial allegations against an accused;
  • There is substantial evidence of complainants directly following publicity (publicity acts as “fly paper”);
  • Troubled people often have something that happened in life, even if it is not what they have reported.  It could be a flashback or something that happened years ago;
  • Prominent people are more vulnerable to false complaints than others;
  • There are various categories of complainant – compensation seekers, attention seekers and those with mental health problems.

Other research focused on school teachers and their many complainants.  According to one report, one quarter of school staff have faced unfounded accusations, and one in six have faced malicious allegations from a pupil’s family.  

In relation to the likelihood or otherwise of false complaints, on different measures, between 3 % and 12% of accusations are likely to have been false (Henriques quoting Dame Elish Angiolini’s inquiry report of 2015, an inquiry into rape allegations).  This far exceeds the numbers used in statements often made by victim support groups and Get Pellers.

Survivors’ groups have played a key role in these debates in both the UK and Australia.  Victims’ groups are especially well organised in the UK, such as NAPAC (the National Association for People Abused in Childhood), with outspoken leaders like Peter Saunders who have been peripherally involved in getting Pell.  These groups have both driven changes to the legal and policing systems in favour of complainants, and have been in the forefront of resistance to Henriques type proposals for reforms that would provide more protections to the falsely accused.  Survivors groups are well organised in Australia too, and played their part in hounding Cardinal Pell during and after the Royal Commission.

According to one UK lawyer, in evidence before the 2002 British parliamentary inquiry:

.. two witnesses were prepared to state, on oath, that the complainants had admitted to them in conversations that they had fabricated allegations against … in order to get compensation.

On the question of false allegations and their alleged rarity, parroted recently by activist Hetty Johnson, FACT (Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers) UK had this to say:

We are all our own worst enemy because we so often believe we will never be the victim of a false allegation. How could this happen, we are not doing anything wrong? FACT would be very rich if it had a pound for every time we have heard that. The second thing we hear is that false allegations are rare. But this does not come from the hundreds and hundreds of people who have contacted us for support.

… Over the last 24 months or so we have seen an increasing number of false allegations against high-profile celebrity and establishment figures hitting the media. Sir Cliff Richard being one, and of course the Carl Beech allegations in Operation Midland. It cannot be overstressed that this is only the tip of the iceberg. I tend to refer to the rest of us as ‘the ordinary folk’ and it is this group which is suffering in larger numbers and does not have the resources to fight back on their own, they need help.

On the question of the impact of false allegations on the life of the accused, sex abuse scholar Ros Burnett, referring to the case of wrongful accusations against the late Lord McAlpine, described that fate as being akin to “the lowest circle of hell”.  Such is the torment suffered by the wrongly accused.

The Met destroyed lives.  Destroyed families.  Destroyed reputations.  Wasted resources.  Embarrassed themselves.  Used discredited methods found wanting years earlier.  At least the head of the Met had the decency to commission the inquiry into the methods used by the police in Operation Midland.  Can anyone seriously believe an Australian Police Commissioner would ever do that?  Indeed, VicPol and other members of Get Pell knew about Carl Beech – in 2015 before he was outed as a fantasist and liar and subsequently jailed.

The Met, like Scott Morrison, Vivian Waller, Louise Milligan, VicPol and Anne Ferguson, simply “believed”.

The Met was heavily criticised over Operation Midland in an independent review of the case by former High Court judge Sir Richard Henriques.

He reprimanded the force for believing Beech for too long, detective superintendent Kenny McDonald for announcing publicly that Beech's claims were "credible and true", and officers for applying for search warrants with flawed information and for failing to close the investigation sooner.

Lord Daniel Finkelstein has stated, in relation to “we always believe you” thinking:

Our current, entirely justified concern about child abuse, carries with it particular dangers. It is an extremely difficult area in which to establish guilt and innocence and we are using very alarming techniques. First there is a dangerous principle: the accuser must always be believed. This goes far beyond the idea the accuser must be treated with respect and their allegations taken seriously, which is correct. The new principle is dangerous not just because it defies common sense. The real problem is that the police don't seek the truth, they construct cases. Starting with a rock-solid assumption that the victim is indeed a victim and the victim's story is correct, the temptation is strong to fit the facts to the story rather than test the story with the facts.

Of course, they have always done this.  But in cases of historical sex abuse allegations, their woeful methods especially matter, with “we believe you” embedded in their cultures, witnesses possibly dead or otherwise absent, little exculpatory evidence to hand, and that it is so often the word of one against another.

Not only are police methods deeply flawed.  They are also in cahoots with priest chasing personal injury lawyers like Waller, locked in a relationship of mutual dependence as well as a shared ideology.  Here is the UK Parliamentary Committee in 2002 speaking about the Panorama program led by David Rose:

During an interview for the Panorama programme, “In the Name of the Children”, Peter Garsden, a partner solicitor of Abney Garsden McDonald, described his relationship with the police as "symbiotic". He explained:

"They depended on us, and we depended on certain ways. For example, the police would want us to refer any new complaints of abuse that they didn't know about to them, because it would help them in their process...We depended on them, because we wanted from them as much information about the pending criminal trials as possible".

David Rose’s testimony to the Committee was as follows:

David Rose, Special Investigations Reporter for The Observer (and author of the Panorama programme) outlined some examples of this symbiosis.  He referred to the holding of regular meetings between the police and groups of compensation solicitors and said that some forces had made direct referrals to named firms of solicitors.  He also told us that a senior officer in Merseyside Police—John Robbins—had written directly to solicitors, asking them to advise their clients to postpone their action for compensation until the conclusion of the criminal trial.  He suggested that it was "no coincidence" that that particular officer was now working for a firm of civil compensation solicitors, following his retirement from the force.  To his mind, this was "very clear evidence of a worrying degree of...blurring of the civil and criminal processes".  He later added, however, that "in fairness, this [relationship between solicitors and the police] has begun to close down".

The lessons for Victoria here are clear.

Back to Sir Richard Henriques.  Despite the power of the Henriques report, look what has happened in the UK, as a recent headline notes:

Lamentable. Inadequate. Inexcusable: Sir Richard Henriques blasts the police watchdog who ruled not one officer should be punished over the “Nick the fantasist” scandal.

Senior Met officers were peremptorily investigated then exonerated.  One  officer linked to the workings of Operation Midland, Cressida Dick, now runs the Met!  Sir Richard stated:

It is a matter of profound regret that one of the most unsatisfactory and error-ridden criminal operations in history should be followed by such a lamentably slow and inadequate process.

Maintenance of law and order depends upon the effective oversight of those invested with power. Who guards the guards themselves? A malfunctioning police force has not received the necessary oversight. 

The Henriques report was, effectively, parked.  Could this be the fate of any potential Australian investigation into VicPol’s shoddy policing in its at-all-costs pursuit of George Pell?

Twenty years after the lessons of the North Wales fiasco were learned, but not ever fully absorbed, we still are awash with false policing and legal practices which allow, indeed encourage, miscarriages of justice.  As investigative journalist David Rose has noted in relation to the UK (writing in 2016):

… despite the subsequent Home Affairs Select Committee report that made important recommendations designed to reduce this risk, most of the lessons learned in that era were never adopted as policy and have now been largely forgotten. … panics over historical abuse have reached a new peak, giving rise to a public discourse that has few limits.

Rose was responsible for a ground breaking documentary in 2000 for Panorama.  It should be required viewing and/or reading by so-called investigative journalists in Australia, and the organisations for which they work.

Rose’s contention in 2016 that the lessons of the UK cases have not been learned is certainly the case in Australia, and the system is begging for reform.

The Sir Ken Jones Testimony to the McMurdo Royal Commission

A good starting point in considering the VicPol culture might be to recall Sir Ken Jones’ testimony in the ongoing McMurdo Royal Commission (into Lawyer X).  Jones, it may be remembered, was a British import who was hounded out of VicPol some years ago for being too honest and outspoken in his honesty.

Sir Ken’s appearance may, one may hope, indeed be the game breaker that will eventually cause some or other Victorian government, against the odds, to hose out the stables and start afresh with policing in that state.

As the Lawyer X Royal Commission thunders on, new evidence is emerging of VicPol’s astonishing methods of keeping the peace, pursuing criminals and securing justice for the innocent in Victoria.

Sir Ken Jones certainly can capture the essence of things with a colourful epithet or seven.  But these are epithets with that ring of truth that comes when someone confirms what we deep down already know to be the case.  Here are some of them offered to the Royal Commission:

  • Toxic culture
  • Absolute loyalty to the boss
  • “Industrial” subversion of the judicial system
  • Cooking crime statistics for political reasons
  • The OPI was a “guard dog” for VicPol, not a “watchdog”
  • Paying of a witness (Gobbo) not to testify (against Paul Dale)
  • Use of the Office of Police Integrity (OPI) to end the careers of rivals to Overland
  • The routine suppression of exculpatory material by OPI and VicPol
  • Petty personal sensitivities
  • “dark corners”
  • Routine phone tapping of police officers
  • “highly irregular, unethical, illegal, chaotic”

You get the idea.  One might think this tirade was merely the articulation of career grief from a career loser.  Oh no.  And VicPol is fighting every inch of the way to have Sir Ken’s more general critique of the culture and operations of VicPol hidden forever from the public.  Whatever else VicPol is and isn’t good at, it is world class in the matter of self-protection.

Sir Ken’s tenure as Deputy Police Commissioner in Victoria was from 2009 to 2011, spanning the change of government from Brumby to Baillieu. 

Sir Ken’s entirely plausible charge that VicPol became a victim of the modish corporatist “loyalty to the boss” mentality so redolent of today’s civil services is central to his overall critique of VicPol.  It would be no surprise, then if such a mentality was at its strongest when applied to the Commissioner/Minister relationship.  This is especially the case in the era of short term contracts, and was supercharged in the case of VicPol given its mid-to-late 2000s pursuit of lawless, rampant, no-holds-barred, gangland drugs barons, and more recently by the racially/religiously sensitive issue of “gangs of colour” causing havoc across Melbourne’s suburbs.

The toxic culture also extends to protecting one’s mates (bosses included) within the force at the expense of targeted “enemies within”.  VicPol does witch hunts exceedingly well. 

No generalised account of the deep state in Australia should ever avoid using the state of Victoria as a prime case study.

What the Margaret McMurdo Royal Commission shows is that every single pursuit of alleged criminals by VicPol, not just those related to the Lawyer X abomination of justice, must come under the most severe scrutiny.  The things that Victorian police and their commanders have been shown to have been willing to do brings every last criminal investigation in Victoria into question.  Including, perhaps especially, Operation Tethering.

For his trouble, back in 2011, Sir Ken Jones received death threats to himself and his family.  Lasers trained on chests, that sort of thing.  The State Ombudsman of the day told Jones he knew of OPI plans to burgle his home and interfere with his computer!  He was hounded out of the service.  Remember who was 2iC at the OPI.  The man now in charge of the circus.

Sir Ken Jones said his ousting from the force was an attempt to silence and discredit the concerns he had raised about the use of Informer 3838, the manipulation of crime statistics, cost-blow outs and what he described as ‘‘distasteful’’ practices within the top ranks of Victoria Police.

He was told his removal was greeted with ‘‘the chief and my colleagues indulging in some unprofessional high-five gestures’’ inside Victoria Police headquarters.

He summed up the culture of VicPol thus:

In any public service such unquestioning loyalty to hierarchy is toxic and dysfunctional, it sustains and nurtures corrupt cultures and cover ups. This is especially true in law enforcement.

As noted above, Sir Ken Jones made special mention of the very ironically named OPI.  In his evidence before the Commission, he stated:

I had tried to get the OPI interested when I raised concerns in the broadest sense with His Honour Michael Strong ... we had a conversation in which I was somewhat guarded as I didn't wholly trust the OPI.

Sir Ken said in his statement the meeting was not a success.

Mr Strong did not react well. He seemed somewhat indignant with me and paraphrased what I said as an attack on the chief, which was not the case. He stood up and showed me the door. 

The same Michael Strong has also been a County Court Judge in Victoria, reinforcing the sense one has, post-Pell, of the extremely tight linkages across the various arms of justice and law enforcement in Victoria.

On all the evidence, certainly that which has been revealed during the McMurdo Royal Commission, VicPol clearly emerges as an organisation that seems to believe it is above the law.  It remains a swamp of incompetence, cover-ups, reputation protection at all costs, the wasteful use of resources, routine illegality and spite. 


The history of VicPol makes astonishing, confounding and ironic reading, especially in the light of the current anti-Catholic culture seemingly embedded in the force.  Back in the day, as former Victorian detective Denis Ryan’s harrowing account of his pursuit of the paedophile priest John Day from the 1970s makes clear, the likes of Day were protected by a “Catholic mafia” within VicPol that reached to very high places in what was then a very corrupt organisation and that dogged Ryan’s lifelong pursuit of Day.  At the same time, Ryan could claim that it was virtually mandatory that you had to be a Freemason to get the Commissioner’s job.  Oh, and according to Ryan, VicPol was an ALP stronghold back then.

The bad old days when complainants never stood a chance.  Fast forward to today …

As I have often said, if I were setting up a police state, I wouldn’t put VicPol in charge of it.  Both dumb AND dangerous.  One almost doesn’t know where to start.

The corrupt culture doesn’t just arise in relation to high profile matters like Lawyer X and George Pell, but drives everyday policing as well.  Michael McAuley has noted :

In May 2018 an internal police investigation revealed that more than 258,000 breath tests over five years were estimated to have been falsified by Victorian police. 

Then there are the 25,000 or so COVID “spot checks” undertaken in just one month since Daniel Andrews uncovered his inner fascist:

In the 24 hours to 11pm on Monday [April 20], Victoria Police conducted 893 spot checks at homes, businesses and non-essential services.

Police have conducted a total of 25,814 spot checks since March 21.

This is all quite chilling, and suggests that the urge to bully, falsify and ride roughshod over decent values and practice runs deep and broad in VicPol.  They are such a strange combination of the vicious and the incompetent.  Stasi meets Clouseau. 

The leaks against Pell suggest orchestrated malice.  The trawling connotes an obsession with obtaining child abuse convictions in a broader political culture of moral panic.  The attempted reversal of the onus of proof revealed in such stark relief right throughout the Pell case is quite sinister.  The ease of passage of key staff between political offices and senior management within the police and the falsification of convictions data raised by Sir Ken Jones speak to the utter politicisation of the force.  The refusal to interview key witnesses in the Pell case reveal the “constructing a case” approach to getting their man and an aversion to seeking the truth when policing.  Whether this is commonplace in VicPol operations or was simply confined to the pursuit of Pell, and whether it amounts to spite or to simply getting the convictions numbers up – essentially a political game – it suggests that the rottenness is embedded and that urgent action is required to steer the ship back on course.

The analysis contained in this essay provides a number of clues as to the lingering questions for journalists and Pell defenders alike – how did this gross injustice happen? – and suggests areas on which a reform process might focus.  These include culture, a legislative re-set, new leadership, a cleaning out of the stables, dispensing with trawling, greater oversight by Victoria’s Independent Broadly-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC), getting rid of the word “victim” when “complainant” is meant.  Clearly these agenda items include both the broad and the specific.

There are four main scenarios for early attention to reform. 

First, the McMurdo Royal Commission might find that its specific terms of reference in relation to lawyer X might allow a far broader set of recommendations that go to the corrupt culture within VicPol.  Second, a new commissioner, while no doubt wedded to the Andrews agenda, might feel inclined to be less protective of reputations than Ashton has been, and so open the door at least slightly ajar in relation to system reform.  Third, Andrews might be defeated at the polls.  Fourth, the Government in Canberra may feel inclined to conduct its own investigation into the Victorian justice system, or to use the parliamentary committee system to investigate Victorian justice systems. 

A Royal Commission has been touted by some.  This has the advantage of being able to compel witnesses to appear and organisations to hand over any documents requested.  If commissioned by a national government, even one with the will to do so, there would be massive resistance from Victoria and constitutional issues aplenty.  Any Commonwealth action is therefore unlikely, especially from a Government led by someone who loudly proclaimed “we believe you”.

Sadly, none of these scenarios strikes this writer as at all likely, so ensuring, against the post-Pell odds, the survival of a corrupt, politicised, corporatised yet freewheeling, politically obsessed, leaking and beyond-woke police service.  On the other hand, if the Pell and Lawyer X cases between them don’t provide both rationale for reform and a sense of urgency, one wonders just what could.  Though with Ashton in control, with rock solid protection from Andrews, there would seem to be no embarrassment sufficient to shake VicPol’s complacency.  Once you have been called Clouseau – where do you go from there?  I cannot imagine Graham Ashton ever commissioning an independent judicial review of VicPol’s conduct during the Pell case, in the way that the Met did.  He will tough it out.

There is also likely to be resistance from frontline police officers, as recent evidence from the UK attests:

Others in policing believe those coming forward should be believed until evidence to the contrary emerges and should be called victims from the outset, not complainants as the retired judge [Henriques] argues.

Whatever the actions that might be taken by governments to reform the system and so to protect those who, unlike Cardinal Pell, cannot come up with a crowd funded solution to defending their accusations, the longer term prognosis for embedding better practice in the UK is sobering.  This is despite the wonderful earlier work done by FACT UK, Richard Webster, The Guardian newspaper, the British parliamentary group formed to defend the falsely accused and the Oxford researchers, not to mention Henriques.  As explained in a 2016 book edited by Ros Burnett, David Rose explains:

… despite the subsequent Home Affairs Select Committee report that made important recommendations designed to reduce this risk, most of the lessons learned in that era were never adopted as policy and have now been largely forgotten. … panics over historical abuse have reached a new peak, giving rise to a public discourse that has few limits.

Does this sound familiar?  With extreme relevance to Pell, the book examines the relationships and interactions between police and personal injury lawyers, aka priest chasers, in cases of historic abuse allegations.

What can the higher courts do to help?  They can be very generous in rewarding the falsely accused.  Harvey Proctor, a British Tory MP falsely accused by Carl Beech, just received an all up payment of over two million pounds in recompense, from the Met.  These signals could be quite significant.

Absent political or bureaucratic courage, there are things that we the people can undertake, either to pressure governments to reform policing practice, and/or to protect the interests of those falsely accused.  An organisation like FACT (Falsely Accused Carers and Teachers) UK is much needed in Australia, not least to take the too narrow focus away from Catholic prelates and clerics and to engage the broader class of the falsely accused.

At first they came for the cardinals …  who will be next?  In the alarming phrase of the British observer John Robins, “guilty until proven innocent”.  And even then, you won’t be believed …


Click here to read part I of this article:


Paul Collits

Paul Collits is a freelance writer and independent researcher who lives in Lismore New South Wales.  
He has worked in government, industry and the university sector, and has taught at tertiary level in three different disciplines - politics, geography and planning and business studies.  He spent over 25 years working in economic development and has published widely in Australian and international peer reviewed and other journals.  He has been a keynote speaker internationally on topics such as rural development, regional policy, entrepreneurship and innovation.  Much of his academic writing is available at
His recent writings on ideology, conservatism, politics, religion, culture, education and police corruption have been published in such journals as Quadrant, News Weekly and The Spectator Australia.
He has BA Hons and MA degrees in political science from the Australian National University and a PhD in geography and planning from the University of New England.  He currently has an adjunct Associate Professor position at a New Zealand Polytechnic.